India has been known as the land of spices. In fact had it not been for the famous "spice route", India would not have been the preferred destination for the Portuguese, British, Persians and other people from all over the world.
Spices form an essential part of the Indian cuisine. However, the term "Indian Cuisine" is quite a misnomer since there are millions of cuisines in the country. Each region has its own cuisine and staple dishes. Hence, each region and state uses different spices to prepare their food. For example, the southern part of India is known for preparations made of rice flour like "dosa" and "idli" and the excessive use of tamarind. The northern part on the other hand uses more cumin seeds and other spices. Similarly while the eastern part is known for its preference to fish and rice, the western part is more partial to dishes made from chickpea flour.
However, there are certain spices that every Indian kitchen must have. These spices are used in different permutations and combinations for preparing a vast variety of Indian dishes:
•Turmeric or Haldi powder: Haldi powder or turmeric is an essential part of all Indian curries. The yellowish reddish color of the Indian curries and other preparations is due a combination of turmeric and red chili powder. This powder is made from grinding turmeric root. Turmeric is well known as an antioxidant and as a natural cure for cough, cold and even cancer.
•Jeera or cumin seeds: Almost all Indian dishes (barring some south Indian dishes) start with a tempering of cumin seeds in heated oil. Cumin seeds are used for flavor and also help in enhancing digestion.
•Salt: No Indian food can be complete without a dash of salt. Salt (sodium chloride) is an essential part of the Indian cooking because it adds to the flavor and also helps in balancing the flavors imparted by the other spices.
•Red Chili Powder: This is another essential ingredient of all kinds of Indian recipes. Contrary to the popular belief, red chili powder is not "hot". It depends on the kind of red chili used to make the powder. Some are not very hot but have a rich color and the others may be hot.
•Amchur or dry mango powder: Amchur powder is another very essential part of the Indian cooking since it adds a tangy flavor to the dish.
•Red Onion: Most Indian dishes like curries and other vegetarian and non-vegetarian preparations usually start with a tempering of cumin seeds followed by onion in heated oil. Onions are also rich in anti oxidants and have cholesterol-lowering properties.
•Garlic and Ginger: A combined paste of ginger and garlic adds a zing to all kinds of Indian dishes. Garlic and ginger are known for their anti oxidant properties and also used in various herbal preparations.
These are some of the basic ingredients used in Indian recipes that make the Indian food truly Indian.